Beyond the Edge of the Sea: Sailing with Jason and the Argonauts, Ulysses, the Vikings, and Other Explorers of the Ancient World [NOOK Book]


The story of Jason and the Argonauts and Homer's tales of Ulysses' wanderings are among the greatest of the ancient epics, but they are not merely fiction. Following the clues in the classical texts, Mauricio Obregón here maps the likely routes of these adventurers and reveals the remaining traces of the things and places they describe, re-creating the geographical discovery of the ancient world.

Obregón takes us with him on his reenactments ...
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Beyond the Edge of the Sea: Sailing with Jason and the Argonauts, Ulysses, the Vikings, and Other Explorers of the Ancient World

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The story of Jason and the Argonauts and Homer's tales of Ulysses' wanderings are among the greatest of the ancient epics, but they are not merely fiction. Following the clues in the classical texts, Mauricio Obregón here maps the likely routes of these adventurers and reveals the remaining traces of the things and places they describe, re-creating the geographical discovery of the ancient world.

Obregón takes us with him on his reenactments of the hazardous adventures of Jason, sailing east along the coast of the Black Sea, and of Ulysses, sailing clockwise around the Mediterranean. These voyages map the two major seas of the ancient era and help us understand how the Greeks viewed their world — including the many startling deductions they were able to make about it (such as the circumference of the earth) from what today seems like limited knowledge.

Obregón has also traced the voyages depicted in the Norse legends, followed adventurous Muslims on southern journeys, and emulated the Polynesians who managed to traverse the seemingly limitless Pacific. He scrutinizes every detail of sailing in ancient times, such as the mechanics of navigation: The stars, for example, which the mariners took as their guides, were not in the positions that we see them in today, a crucial fact in re-creating past voyages.

This wonderful book contains more than forty drawings and photographs, including depictions of the explorers' ships based on the descriptions in the literature that has come down to us, the facts hidden in the fiction, from ancient times.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Historian Mauricio Obregón has a passion for retracing the early voyages of discovery. Here he brings the reader along as he maps the routes of such intrepid explorers as Jason and his band of Argonauts, the mighty Odysseus of Greece, the seafaring Muslims, and, of course, the Vikings.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An experienced sailor, Obreg n (who before his death in 1998 was a member of Harvard's board of overseers) succeeded in his lifelong attempt to replicate, in detail, the journeys of some of the most daring, famous, even mythic voyagers and seafaring peoples of the past, including the Argonauts' expedition in search of the Golden Fleece, Odysseus' 10-year journey home after the Trojan War, the Vikings' visits to North America, the Muslims' voyages to the east and Polynesians' exploration of the Pacific. He based his voyages on geographical, meteorological and celestial information available in ancient accounts such as the Icelandic sagas. As he recounts what it was like to re-create these ancient itineraries, Obreg n comments not only on how the risks those sailors took opened up the world, but also on the types of ships and rigging they used, details of their navigational techniques and insight into their sophisticated understanding of the complexities of the varying winds coming from all four points of the globe. The book, although not scholarly (there are no footnotes and only a minimal bibliography), will appeal to professional historians precisely because Obreg n's conclusions, for the most part reasonable, are based on his own considerable experience traveling on the same, largely immutable waters as his subjects. (Jan.) Forecast: In addition to those professional historians, the book , which exudes an almost bewitching charm, lends itslef to a wider readership interested in seafaring and its lore. With 47 carefully selected illustrations, this title will make an excellent gift for anyone eager to be entertained by tales of adventure and romance from the distant past. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the spirit of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki, the late Obreg n, a historian and adventurer, proposes to look at ancient myths through the "eyes of a sailor." Applying the techniques of modern navigation, geography, and meteorology to the ancient accounts of Odysseus, Jason, the Polynesians, and the Vikings, Obreg n attempts to reconstruct and retrace their possible voyages. He then coordinates this information with the extant archaeological evidence and some personal and scholarly travel. Obreg n's accounts are well informed and written, though his final conclusions remain speculative, as when he posits that the Polynesians may have reached South America. Others conclusions are trivial, as when he asserts that Homer may have come from Cyprus because of his astronomical allusions. While this book is of limited value, it is fun to read and will be enjoyed by adventure readers and those interested in deciphering mythology.--T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A charming and fascinating little book . . . Obregón takes us to the realm of the earliest sailors, prov[ing] himself as engaging a swabby as the best of them.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“An utterly elegant book, written with a poetic lilt.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The book, which exudes an almost bewitching charm, lends itself to a wide readership interested in seafaring and its lore.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375506819
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/15/2001
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Mauricio Obregón was a Colombian ambassador to the Caribbean, Venezuela, and the O.A.S. He was founder and president of the Caribbean Naval Museum in Cartagena, and a member of the academies of history of Colombia and of Spain.

He retraced, under sail and in the air, fourteen voyages of discovery and followed space flights from the NASA control center. He held the Chair of History of Discovery at the University of the Andes, Bogota, of which he was president, and lectured at universities worldwide, from Harvard (where he was elected to its Board of Overseers) to Dubrovnik.

In addition to publishing a dozen books, including The Caribbean as Columbus Saw It, he narrated the international TV series Columbus and the Age of Discovery, was a test-flight captain at Grumman, was president of the International Aviation Federation, and held for a time the world's light-plane speed record.

As a friend and companion to Samuel Eliot Morison, he helped determine the voyages of Columbus and wrote the Foreword to Morison's Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Mauricio Obregón died in 1998, just after completing Beyond the Edge of the Sea.
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Read an Excerpt

History is a symphony of myths and legends. From the beginning, man's intelligence sketched the myths that would enable him to explain what he discovered, and from these myths collective memory built the legends that would make it possible to pass on the story.

When the Argonauts sailed east across the Black Sea to the Caucasus, and Odysseus west to the Pillars of Hercules, they broadened the limits of an earthbound sea already teeming with myths; and their adventures were handed down from generation to generation until Homer's poetry molded them at last into history. When the Polynesians sailed east across the Pacific to Easter Island and west across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar, their legends also went with them, but, unfortunately, they lacked a bard. Greeks and Polynesians, two antipodal peoples, explored more than half the world, yet they never met. They were very different, but their gods and their stars had much in common, for man seems to find similar solutions to similar problems wherever he may be.

The Greeks lived in walled cities, usually dominated by an acropolis, and their homes looked inward, not at the street but at an enclosed courtyard. The Polynesians, on the other hand, lived under wide thatched roofs, held up by open colonnades of palm wood. Their villages stood near the beach and generally included a house for meetings and for visitors, the manaeba. Though the Greeks watched jealously over their families and their property, the Polynesians usually owned at most a palm mat on which to sleep, with perhaps a small coffer at its head for a few belongings; all the rest was owned by the tribe. The Greeks buried their dead deep under great tumuli, such as can still be seen in Mycenae; the Polynesians buried them in small tombs right in front of their houses, and their children played on the tombs.

Each people sailed in character with the way each lived. The prudent Greeks usually sailed along coasts or toward the visible peaks of high islands, preferably in daytime and in summer. At night, or when the weather threatened, they pulled their ships up on the beach, singing to the rhythm of the waves, which helped raise the ship out of the water. (Caribbean fishermen still do this.) The Polynesians, on the contrary, were blue-water sailors, always ready to probe the deep.

Homer's world was a green ring of earth surrounding the known seas, the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean. Around this world roared the Infinite Ocean, which fed the seas through two Rivers of Ocean, one from the east, where Helios, the Sun, rose from the Elysian Fields, and the other from the west, where he descended into Hades. The Polynesians' world, on the other hand, was the all-encompassing Ocean.

Mythology and its daughter, science, have always known whence life first came. To those who listen, the Gregorian chant of the waves speaks as clearly of gods as does the multitudinous rocking of the atoms, and it was out of the Infinite Ocean that the gods arose. In Babylon and in Egypt, Nun and Apsú floated above the all-encircling waters. In Hesiod's theogony and in Homer, Gaia, the Earth, and Uranus, the Sky, were born of Ocean, which was chaos, and engendered all the gods. For Polynesians it all began with Io, the waters; and the waters begot Rangui, the heavens, and Paapa, the earth. Even in Genesis, the Spirit of God moved first over the waters. And the Kogi Indians, Colombia's great mythologists, begin their story of creation with these words: "When all was dark, our mother was the Sea."

Having flown formation with an eagle down the god-infested canyon of Delphi, I myself need no further evidence for the ancient legends, and Homer's gods are easy to understand. But they are difficult to explain because the very word God obstructs the explanation in modern terms. The Greek gods are not otherworldly spirits but an integral part of society, an essentially feudal one in which everyone is subject to a superior being, or master of an inferior. There are servants, squires, chieftains, kings, tutelary spirits, nymphs, demigods, and gods; and within this framework one might do better to speak of "overlords" than of gods.

Since they form part of a tightly knit hierarchy, the Greek gods are always present to illuminate everyday things like bread and wine and death, with that transcendence necessary to sanity that we so lack today. When they want to be equivocal they use omens and signs, such as those that are interpreted through bird lore; but when they wish to be clearly understood they simply disguise themselves as men or women and speak. There is no question as to the gods' existence; the only question concerns their unpredictable behavior, for they are imperfect gods, and therefore quite real. One might say that whereas we have to make do with an imperfect faith in a perfect God, the Greeks were more comfortable with their perfect faith in imperfect gods. It is always difficult to seek perfection without first making one's peace with imperfection.

These imperfect gods act exactly as such, their always human reactions simply magnified by their wonderful powers, unlimited by the laws of nature but often limited by the desires and actions of another god. This has quite distinct advantages, not the least of which is that the gods, in order to avoid chaos, must enter into contracts or covenants not only with one another but also with men, thus laying the foundation for all subsequent justice by simple do ut des (tit for tat). This tradition lasts all the way to the covenants that underlie the Jewish, the Christian, and the Muslim faiths. In a world thus ordered, men also live according to a series of bilateral agreements with other men and simply pay the price whenever an agreement is broken, or, in the last resort, blame the gods. They can afford to live by a moral code (mores means "manners") rather than by what we would call ethics, and they can be virtuous and noble for reasons more sensible than the nagging avoidance of a sense of guilt. Revenge is to be feared more than guilt, and since an offense only breaks a bilateral contract, a third party such as the state can be quite lenient. We, on the other hand, always seem ready to unload our problems on the state and to throw morals out of the window, the young bent on replacing manners with fashion; the old, morals with money.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations vii
Prologue ix
I Peoples and Gods 3
II Winds and Stars 13
III Ships and Navigation 29
IV Eastward: The Argonautica 43
V Medea and the Riddle of the Argonauts' Return 62
VI Westward: The Odyssey 71
VII East to the Isles of Spice 91
VIII West to Vinland 107
Epilogue 121
Select Bibliography 125
Index 127
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2001

    A Fascinating Look at Ancient Exploration

    The author takes ancient texts, religions, and stories and turns them into factual accounts of the sea-faring adventures of Greeks, Polynesians, Muslims, and Norsemen. Among the four groups, most of the world was explored in ancient times. The observations are based on the author's real-life experiences of retracing these routes, often by sea and otherwise by air. The book succinctly captures enormous amounts of perspective in just a few pages and with many stunning illustrations. I have read no book that is its equal for making the ancient world real to us today. 'At sea there are no atheists . . . .' Ambassador Obregon, who is now deceased, looks at religious beliefs for clues about the voyages. Ancient peoples often calculated their locations by where they were compared to the constellations overhead. They saw the gods in these constellations, which made them doubly meaningful. He goes on to show the prevailing winds in the major parts of the world. Since much travel was by sail, these winds had a heavy influence on what routes were chosen. From there, he draws on whatever available evidence there is to answer questions like: How did the Argonauts get home? Where did Homer write the Odyssey? Are the 'Indians' of South America descendants of the Polynesians? Although the answers can be considered to be no more than hypotheses, they represent ideas that certainly help rule out some of the alternative explanations. If you are like me, it greatly adds to your appreciation of these ancient stories and peoples to see where they may have gone on a map, and to learn what the practical problems were that they probably encountered on these trips. I would otherwise not have realized that the Danube could be traversed by heavy boat with minimal portages. The hypothesis about the Polynesians is especially interesting. Since they were relying on sail for much of their travel, he suggests that they may have waited for winds to blow that countered the usual direction of the trades. This meant reducing the risk of going into an ocean of unknown length, because when the trade winds did return they would push one safely home. His perspective on all of this in the epilogue is quite interesting. 'Between [the Greeks and the Polynesians] . . ., they explored more than half [the earth's'] circumference, yet they never met.' 'The Muslims . . . never ventured into the [Atlantic or Pacific].' But these travels were important, because they laid the foundation for the rediscovery of ancient knowledge that became the Renaissance. The book is filled with little tidbits that would make a whole book for any other author. I particularly loved his explanation of how Eratosthenes of Syene (today's Aswan) came close to correctly calculating the earth's circumference in ancient times by measuring the length of a shadow in Alexandria to calculate its angle as compared to no shadow in Syene on the same day. How many of today's trigonometry or geometry students would conceive of this clever method? I also encourage you to read this book for the purpose of thinking about how multidisciplinary perspectives can advance knowledge in ways that a narrower focus can

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    Posted September 7, 2010

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